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Monday, November 15, 2010

Horsing Around

I've been captivated with freshly grated horseradish since encountering it at a bloody mary bar in Louisville last year.  It certainly wakes up a boodly mary in a way that prepared horseradish simply cannot.  It's biting and hot in a pure way without the interference of vinegar based processing.  When freshly grated, the oils release into a  stinging aromatic mist.  Pure horseradish essence.

I have seen it at the grocery store lately wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and nestled on a shelf below the dueling colored  fingerling potatoes and gigantic plastic garlic keepers.  Hardly a high traffic area.  Last weekend I finally bought a horseradish root after wrestling with the price tag.  Was it $7.59 for a nob or $7.59 by the  pound?  With fresh ginger, I pluck off what I need, bag it, and take it to cashier.  The horseradish was too big for that and there was nothing  to pluck.  I handed the stumpy brown root to the very talkative cashier and asked her if it was sold by the piece or by the pound.  "This looks like something my dog would chew on.", she said. Yep. She was correct.  It did. "That dog dug up our cable lines the other day.  Front yard and back.", she continued.  Playing along, I responded, "He dug up all of your cable lines?", feigning total disbelief. She went on and on and on. She never answered my question. By the time she finished her story, the groceries were bagged and paid for. I think the horseradish sold for $7.59 a pound.

We got home from the grocery and  put everything away.  While Michael prepared quesadillas for his lunch, I prepared a blood mary for mine. I added tons of grated horseradish, celery salt, celery seed, worchestershire sauce, fresh squeezed lemon, and a pickled asparagus tip garnish. Heaven. 

Couched in front of the television for college football with bloody mary in hand, I pondered the ways I could use the prized horseradish purchase for dinner the following night.

Michael doesn't care for hot spicy and food, but he does like wasabi and horseradish.  Thank God. Yesterday, after some thought, I decided to make soup for dinner. It was a dreary chilly day.  Soup seemed comforting and warm.  I was over-processing and obsessing on how to use the horseradish until I just put all thoughts of it on hold and decided to decide when the time came to cook.  No recipes.  No overthinking.  No plan.

I rifled through the vegetable bin looking for suitable horseradish partners and found two stalks of celery, several onions, garlic, ginger,  1/2 sweet potato, and organic carrots. I didn't have to make a decision at all.  I'd make pureed carrot soup with horseradish.

I roughly chopped peeled carrots, the halved sweet potato, celery, garlic, and onions before dropping them into sizzling hot oil with salt to saute and sweat until translucent.  I didn't want any color on them. Shockingly, no caramelzation.  Once softened, I deglazed the pan with wine and let it reduce into wine syrup before adding vegetable stock, a bay leaf, juiced mandarin oranges, and cracked pepper.  I covered the dutch oven and allowed the soup to simmer for an hour.  I checked it occasionally, adding stock as necessary.
While the soup simmered, Michael prepared his decadent grilled onion & grilled cheese sandwiches for sopping and I worked on the soup garnishes.  Wanting freshness and sharpness, I tossed a combination of mandarin orange and lemon zest with minced parsley.  Think loose gremolata.

Fresh horseradish loses it pungency when cooked, so at the last minute I tossed in coarsely grated horseradish, gave the soup a stir, and turned off the heat.  I let the grated horseradish steep in the soup for a few minutes before pureeing it in batches with my swanky new blender. It was incredibly velvety.  I poured it back into the pot and added vegetable stock until the soup was the perfect consistency.

To gild the lily just a bit, I whipped mexican crema with fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and finely grated horseradish for a final cooling swirl.

The flavor and texture was mind blowing. Pureed root vegetable soups can sometimes be cloyingly sweet and texturally heavy.  The fresh mandarin orange juice lightened the pureed carrots, adding a bright sweet acidity. The horseradish didn't dominate as I expected it to.  It had a mellow underlying soft spice with just enough pungent  heat to be present. Wow.  The tart creamy topping and zested fruit bridged freshness with earthiness to perfection.

Michael's luxurious grilled cheese sandwiches were  perfect soppers. They had crunchy buttery exteriors that released oozing cheese with sweet soft onions.  Bite. Dip. Swish. Moan. 

Orange mustaches with  sticky cheesy fingers. 

The soup was soft, creamy, velvety, pungent, spicy, and tart. It was everything wrapped up in a shallow bowl.  I only wish there had been more. 

The next time you run across a fresh horesradish root at the supermarket, pick one up and give it a try.

If you like horseradish, you will enjoy it.  If you love horseradish, you will rediscover it.


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